It was a conversation I’ll never forget. Not because it was particularly long, it was actually one of the shortest conversations I’ve ever had with my son. But it was a conversation that had profound impact on me. It started out with a gentle question. I asked the question, because I loved my son, because I couldn’t bear to wait any longer.
“I understand that you are gay. Is this true?”
I knew it was true. I had known for some time. When your teenage son starts referring to male actors as “cute” it’s a pretty big hint! I waited for him to tell me. I waited for him to be ready.
But it takes a lot of courage for gay teens to come out. Even though society is changing there is still a lot of fear to overcome. I knew that, but the time had come for me to ask.
The silence hung between the two of us and finally my son hung his head and quietly said, “yes!”
I was heartbroken. My wonderful, intelligent, imaginative and beloved son had hung his head in fear.
I had always imagined that I was the kind of mom that was approachable. I worked hard to ensure that my boys could tell me anything. I loved my children with a fierce love that nothing could ever destroy. And yet somehow I had failed to communicate this to my son.
The relationship between parent and child is incredible. In one of her books Anne Lamott wrote
“there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.”
And it’s true isn’t it? The relationship between parent and child is beautiful. But it can also be hard and messy. Things get complicated. Fear creeps in and brings chaos in its wake. When I saw my son hang his head I knew I had to start over. I told him that I already knew. A look of shock replaced the look of shame, quickly followed by relief as he realized I was okay with it.
My son had the courage to come out and say, “this is who I am.” I was so proud of him. Now it was my turn and that wasn’t so easy. Gay rights activist Peggy Campolo once talked about what it is like to live in a closet. She had three observations
- To live in a closet is a terrible thing
- People live in closets because they are afraid they will not be loved or accepted if they are honest about who they are
- Homosexual people are not the only people who live in closets.
We attended a church that was strongly opposed to gay marriage. I was married to the minister for goodness sake. The truth was that I supported gay rights, but had been afraid to speak out. For fear of being rejected. For fear of being different. It was a ugly side of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge or face.
The conversation I had with my son that day changed me. I realized that I could no longer stay silent. The only way to really communicate my complete acceptance was to follow his lead. It was really, really hard. I wish I could say that I immediately found the courage to come out of my closet. But the truth is that it took about five years. I discovered that fear is powerful force, but in the end love defeats fear. I discovered that you can do hard things even when you are deathly afraid. I found that amazing growth has a way of bursting forth in the middle of the mess.
In the end the love I had for my son compelled me to come out of my closet. I had to recognize and face my fears, before I could speak up in support of my son and all those who are a part of the GBLT community. And you know what? The world didn’t end! All those years I had been terrified of speaking up and voicing my beliefs, but in the end I discovered that it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought. And that is a very liberating thing. In the middle of the fear I found myself.
Today I want to remind you that parenting can be be messy and hard. There will be times when fear raises its ugly head, but that’s okay. It is part of life. The truth is that even when you are deathly afraid there are still all kinds of wonderful things waiting to be discovered.
- We can do hard things even when we are really scared.
- Love trumps fear.
- We can start over at any time.
There was a time when I thought that pain, fear, and mess were a sign of failure. That somehow when those things crept into my life it was a sign that I was lacking. Now I have discovered that I am imperfect and yet I am still enough. I am learning to embrace my messy, beautiful, imperfect life just the way it is. It has also allowed me to accept my children’s messy beautiful lives just as they are. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.